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State of emergency declared in L.A. County as officials tally storm damage

December 23, 2010 |  5:27 pm

Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles, Kings and Santa Barbara counties in response to destructive rains this week.

State of emergencies were already declared in Kern, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo and Tulare counties.

The declarations came as work crews, residents and business owners traded sandbags for shovels Thursday to clean up after a week of storms that caused severe damage to at least 40 homes across Southern California and claimed one life.

Rescue crews shepherded dozens of stranded motorists and trapped residents to safety, but they could not reach Angela Marie Wright, 39, of Menifee, authorities confirmed Thursday.

She had been found dead in her car Wednesday afternoon after being swept off the road in storm waters in the Canyon Lake area of Riverside County, authorities said. One of the hardest hit locations was foothill community of Highland in San Bernardino County.

There, evacuations remained in force for 140 homes below an unstable 100-foot bluff. At least 26 homes, most of them in another Highland neighborhood where a creek that overflowed, sustained severe damage. Floodwaters left mud as deep as 4 feet and half-buried cars tipped at crazy angles.

It was a miracle no one died, said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Bill Peters.

While the skies were clear for at least part of Thursday, forecasters said another storm could move into Southern California on Christmas Day.

Maldonado was acting on behalf of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was not in the state Thursday.

--Howard Blume and Evan Halper